Priests Hold Mass Fight at Historic Bethlehem Church

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By Christine Thomasos, Christian Post Reporter
December 28, 2011|3:48 pm

Rival clerics have broken out into a mass brawl at a church located in the birthplace of Jesus, causing police to be called to separate the rival clergymen.

An estimated 100 priests and monks belonging to the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches began to fight over territory claimed within the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Wednesday. The church is one of the oldest in the world and is divided between the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian religious leaders.

However, when brooms and fists began flying, Palestinian police were called to restore order. Authorities came into the church with batons and shields to end the scuffle that took place when the rival clerics were preparing for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations, according to BBC News.

While no injuries were reported at the time of press, Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi said that the men of God would not get into serious trouble for the scuffle.

"Everything is all right and things have returned to normal,” said Khaled al-Tamimi in a Reuters report. “No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God."

The men of God thoroughly clean the entire church annually for the Christmas celebration and guests that will visit the landmark in the coming year. The cleaning duties taken on by the clerics include sweeping, dusting, cleaning kerosene and distributing sawdust to soak up any extra oil, MSNBC reported.

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Issues have erupted within the church when clerics cut into each others cleaning boundaries and responsibilities. After police arrived on the scene, they stood between the Armenian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox clergymen in the church to avoid further conflict.

Friction between the denominational groups is nothing new, with fights erupting between the two groups throughout the years. Shmuel Berkobitch, a Jerusalem lawyer who has been called to mediate between the denominations in the past, spoke about the rivalry being dangerous after breaking up a fight between the two groups in 2007.

“There is danger of violence and actual bloodshed at the ceremony of the Holy Fire on Easter Saturday,” he said.

Still, after Wednesday’s episode, Khaled al-Tamimi maintained that the fight was commonplace.

"It was a trivial problem that ...occurs every year," Khaled al-Tamimi said.

 

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